Facing burnout? Two factors to adjust
Burnout can vary from a feeling of tiredness and lack of engagement all the way to serious conditions that require a medical leave of absence. What do you do when you start feeling the symptoms? Here’s a simple diagram to remember.
Burnout is real. I had a three month medical leave of absence because my body refused to be pushed any longer. I had so many different stress symptoms that my body was no longer functioning adequately and all I could do for months was lie on the sofa, barely able to move.
The other day I was listening to an interview about burnout. Pastor Jud Wilhite, in an interview by Carey Nieuwhof on his podcast, said, “I actually don’t think it’s the pace of ministry that’s the problem. I think it’s the weight that you carry at the pace that you run.” (Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast #245, about 1:05:28.)
That started me thinking about what to do if you’re facing burnout or heading towards the course of burnout.
In the past, I have made a number of Strategy Sketchnotes videos. Unfortunately, due to transition and moving and travel, it’s been difficult to make videos. So, for the time being, I am switching to written format. I love learning about leadership and productivity and my goal is to share my learning journey with you.
Back to burnout….
The two factors mentioned above are situations that leaders face.
First, the pace.
The spectrum of pace can be from slow, like a snail, to too fast to keep up, like a jet plane. Pace can apply to seasons as well. Church leaders know Christmas and Easter are crazy times, but something like Grandparents’ Day? Well, it’s not really on the top 10 of massive church events.
Then there is weight.
This talks about the burdens and load that you carry. When you’re on vacation, the ministry load can be as light as a feather. But if your church is going through conflict or major transition, it can feel like you’re carrying a mountain on your back.
The dangerous combination is when you are moving at a fast pace and carrying a heavy weight. This is where over time, you enter the burnout zone.
But moving in the opposite direction is not necessarily great either. You end up with boredom because there is nothing engaging you.
It might be fun for a while, but living a life of slowness doing nothing challenging is not where I would want to be. As a leader, it’s also not realistic to expect life to be this way.
Here’s how leaders can bust burnout. If you’re moving at a fast pace, look at ways to reduce the weight you’re carrying.
Everyone carries burdens in different ways, and how you reduce the weight you’re carrying will be different than how another leader does.
If you are carrying a heavy weight that really cannot be lifted right now, find a way to reduce your pace.
Many times this means emptying the calendar of events and commitments to make space to focus on the areas that need your attention right now.
Taking this approach begins to move your life towards better balance and create more margin for you in times of stress.
Pace and weight are related. Sometimes decisions you make will impact both. There are action steps that you can take to bust burnout.
- Delegating. If you have staff or volunteers, move off some of your responsibilities to someone else.
- Swapping. If you have another leader who finds joy and energy in the things that drain you, swap roles or responsibilities.
- Partnering. Find someone with complementary gifts who enjoys doing things that weigh you down. Or, if it’s a burden only you can carry,
partnershiphelps because someone has your back.
- Purging. My husband is great at setting boundaries. When he begins to near feeling overloaded, he goes into ejection mode. Everything goes out the window.
- Prioritizing. What is truly a high priority and how can you move off less important things to focus on what is truly important?
- Re-scheduling. Does everything have to be done right now? What can be deferred to later?
- Assessing. Create a time log of how you are using your time. You’ll discover all sorts of interesting trends and analyses, like you are doing way too much or not using some of your time effectively.
Whether you slow your pace or lighten your load (or both!), you can bring a healthier balance point to your life. Remember…
Bust burnout by bringing (more) balance.
What are ways that you have slowed your pace or lightened the weight? Comment below.
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Angela Yee is Executive Director of Ministry Development of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Her experience as a church leadership systems consultant, a professional designer and an author enables her to communicate leadership principles visually.
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